Labour relations – Dispute resolution methods

List of methods for solving disputes in collective bargaining.


Collective bargaining is the process through which employers and employees establish the terms and conditions of employment in unionized workplaces.

The vast majority of collective agreements in Alberta are reached through negotiations without outside assistance (over 80%) or through negotiations using a provincially-appointed mediator.

Fewer than 2% of collective bargaining negotiations result in a strike or lockout, a need for special action by the parties or special provincial intervention.


At any time during collective bargaining, either or both parties may ask for the assistance of a mediator. The appointment of a mediator is considered a regular part of the collective bargaining process.

Normally, there are four possible outcomes of mediation:

  1. The mediator can help the parties reach a ratified collective agreement.
  2. The mediator can issue a recommendation for settlement that is accepted by the parties and forms the basis of a collective agreement.
  3. Both or one party rejects the mediator’s recommendations.
  4. The mediator is not able to resolve differences between the parties.

In the case of 3) and 4) above, the parties can continue negotiations, with or without the assistance of the mediator.

If the parties are subject to Essential Services legislation under Division 15.1 of the Code a mediator will only be appointed when one of the following requirements have been met:

  1. The parties have an essential services agreement that has been accepted for filing.
  2. The parties have been granted an exemption.
  3. The Essential Services Commissioner has made a declaration that the provision of essential services during a strike or lockout will substantially interfere with meaningful collective bargaining.
  4. The Essential Services Commissioner has consented to a mediator being appointed without a filed essential services agreement.

Interest arbitration

Voluntary Arbitration Board

If a collective agreement cannot be achieved through negotiations, with or without the assistance of a mediator, Voluntary Interest Arbitration can be considered.

This option is available at any time during the collective bargaining negotiation process. This applies to any kind of bargaining, public or private sector, whether the right to strike/lockout exists, whether there are significant differences between the parties, and whether a dispute strike/lockout is imminent or underway. Both parties must agree to this process.

Arbitration is binding. This means the parties must abide by, and live with the arbitration decision. If the parties agree to voluntary arbitration, they must notify the Minister.

Compulsory Arbitration Board

Compulsory arbitration applies to those employers and employees without the right to strike or lockout, for example firefighters.

If an impasse in mediated negotiations has been reached, the Minister or the parties involved may request the appointment of a Compulsory Arbitration Board (CAB). The parties appoint members of the CAB, but if they fail to do so, they can request the Minister to make the appointments.

The CAB determines its own process, including the method of arbitration to be used.

The CAB must make its award within 20 days after it was established or a longer time fixed by the Minister or agreed to by the parties. The award is binding on the parties and included in the terms of the new collective agreement.

Interest Arbitration Board

An Interest Arbitration Board (IAB) is very similar to a CAB, and is the dispute resolution process for police officers and their employers, under the Police Officers Collective Bargaining Act (POCBA).

First Contract Arbitration

In the event employers and unions are bargaining their first collective agreement (first contract), the Labour Relations Board (Board) may order that the dispute be referred to arbitration.

Prior to this, one or both of the parties in bargaining must apply to the Board for assistance in settling the terms of the first collective agreement. This must occur either after 90 days have passed since notice to bargain was served or bargaining had commenced, or after strike or lockout notice has been served.


Disputes Inquiry Board

A Disputes Inquiry Board (DIB) can be established by the Minister when parties need neutral third-party assistance to resolve a dispute. By appointing a DIB, both parties have the opportunity to explore all avenues open to them to clarify the issues and find an agreeable solution without resorting to a strike or lockout. The parties may request a DIB but in most cases it is the Minister who initiates the action.

If a DIB is established before a strike or lockout begins, neither the union nor the employer can take these actions until the Board process is complete. A DIB does not affect the ability of a party to take strike or lockout action after the process is completed. If a strike or lockout has already begun, establishing a DIB does not stop these actions.

Public Emergency Tribunal (PET)

In the case of an existing, or imminent strike or lockout, the provincial government has the option to end a dispute by declaring a public emergency and referring the matter to a Public Emergency Tribunal (PET), which is a form of compulsory arbitration.

Cabinet can declare that an emergency exists arising from a labour dispute in circumstances where damage to health and property, undue hardship to persons not involved in the dispute, harm to livestock or irreversible damage to crops is or is likely to be the result.

Construction Industry Disputes Resolution Tribunal

The Labour Relations Code provides that, for the purposes of collective bargaining, construction industry trade unions associated with registered employers organizations are grouped into components (divisions) of the construction industry.

General construction industry disputes can be referred to a Construction Industry Disputes Resolution Tribunal (CIDRT) once 75% of the trade divisions have ratified agreements. For example, if there are 24 trade divisions and 18 have new collective agreements in place, the remaining 6 disputes can be referred to a CIRDT.


Connect with Mediation Services:

Phone: 780-427-8301
Toll free: 310-0000 before the phone number (in Alberta)
Email: [email protected]